Fifty-two years ago today, singer Buddy Holly died in a Minnesota plane crash, along with Ritchie Valens and “The Big Bopper.” In Don McLean’s song “American Pie,” it became “the day the music died.”
McLean’s song is a rambling and uneven allegory that, nevertheless, powerfully evokes the magic of Buddy Holly’s music, sung “in a voice that came from you and me”:
And can you teach me how to dance real slow?
Well, I know that you’re in love with him
`Cause I saw you dancin’ in the gym.
You both kicked off your shoes.
Man, I dig those rhythm and blues.
(You can watch a video of Buddy Holly performing “Peggy Sue” on–improbably–the Arthur Murray Dance Party, December 29, 1957.)
Yes, Don, I “believe in rock-and-roll”–and in the power of all kinds of music to stir and empower us. Just yesterday on NPR I listened to a story about a song that helped free Estonia from Soviet control. Bernard Shaw thought that music was akin to religion in its ability to awaken our deepest feelings and strongest values.
Years ago I heard a scientist say that some experiences are etched so deeply into our brains that nothing can remove them. As an example he cited amnesiacs whose memories came back when they were shown a film of the Kennedy assassination. I’ve often suspected that music has the same power. If I ever have Alzheimer’s (it runs in my family), I hope someone will play the soundtrack from Hard Day’s Night for me.
Years ago at a Long Island restaurant, a karaoke singer stopped by my family’s table to sing Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love with You.” To my open-mouthed astonishment, my parents sang right along with him. They had come of age in the Glenn Miller era, long before Elvis came on the scene, and they certainly weren’t fans of his–but they knew every word of the song.
The music didn’t really die 52 years ago. Buddy, we still remember you–and all the other great singers–with love and gratitude.